Some P27.4 billion for right-of-way (RoW) acquisitions that are provided under the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act should be placed under close public watch due to the percolating leadership imbroglio at the House of Representatives.
The fate of the funds may be tied up on who sits in the House leadership during the remaining period of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, since it is among the usual source of funds for political leverage.
Members of the House of Representatives are keeping their eyes on the huge amount which is a favorite source of kickbacks.
Under the law, the national government acquires private real property needed for its projects through donation, negotiated sale, expropriation, or any other mode.
Section 9 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution forbids the taking of private property for public use without just compensation.
In a Senate probe last year, it was found that P2.8 billion spurious RoW claims over the years were traced as having taken root during the previous regime.
The anomaly made it difficult for the government to carry out a tax mapping of real estate properties, which was the ideal setup for the scammers in government.
Probed were P2.8 billion in RoW claims covering a four-lane, 33-kilometer road in General Santos City in 2013.
That was when senators believed the pocketing of funds started. In 2018, the RoW budget allotted for the Department of Public Works and Highways was pegged at P18 billion, P6 billion of which was set aside for 167 RoW settlements in General Santos City alone.
The name of international fraudster Nelson Ti, said to be a close friend of former President Noynoy Aquino’s brother-in-law Eldon Cruz, surfaced as among the leaders of the syndicate tagged in the scandal.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, in a report, identified Ti as the financier of the syndicate headed by Wilma Mamburam and Evelyn Paloso.
Ti is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 59 for estafa and faces prosecution in the United States for conspiracy to defraud the US, but he remains at large.
Three counts of false statements, three counts of mail fraud, six counts of money laundering and obstruction of proceeding before a US agency have also been filed against Ti.
“The syndicate was successful in perpetuating its crime because of a massive breakdown in the law,” the committee report stated.
With the rush of government projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program, the RoW is critical since private property owners will not readily give up their real estate without a satisfactory compensation.
Such reality is, however, exploited by the syndicates, assisted by corrupt government officials to siphon off public funds.
In the General Santos City scandal, for instance, it was found that huge amounts were funneled to empty lots, which were made to appear to have been acquired through RoW.
A thorough check of the budget is needed to prevent the greedy claws of some public officials to again exploit the current situation for their agenda, particularly as bickering over the budget allocations has started.
Similar to avoiding the coronavirus, vigilance is needed to prevent the 2021 budget meant for Filipinos to survive and recover from the pandemic from falling into the wrong pockets.